Two things before I begin this review that you should know: 1) This film is over five hours long. 2) There is an extreme focus on the Japanese Red Army Terrorist squad. Good news is that Carlos was never meant to be consumed in one sitting as it was first aired as a mini-series. This film acts as a serious essay about modern terrorism and focuses breifly upon the The Japanese Red Army, who were a Communist terrorist group founded by Fusako Shigenobu early in 1971 in Lebanon. It sometimes called itself Arab-JRA after the Lod airport massacre. The JRA’s stated goals were to overthrow the Japanese government and monarchy and to start a world revolution. Carlos was an instrument until the end of Cold War; then was kept “protected” by different countries until his knowledge was outdated. After that he was betrayed by his contractors and imprisoned by the French government.
The Japanese Red Army, Nihon Sekigun from 1971 had very close ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. By 1972 the United Red Army in Japan was finished and the Shigenobu group dependent on the PFLP for financing, training and weaponry. But, coming back to the film itself, which stands out in its own right as a superb piece of biopic and historical art, ‘Carlos’ features some of the most exceptional acting I’ve seen from Edgar Ramirez. He is a major presence and makes ‘Carlos’ seem like a righteous humanitarian revolutionary – a problem when the details of the real character Carlos are examined. Very little effort is spared making sure that all viewers fully understand who is good and who is despicably evil and the viewer’s assumed thirst for emotional content is fully addressed through side love stories, blood, proper sound effects and well-choreographed displays of strong emotions and we may realize that we are comparing ‘art’ to ‘entertainment’.
I wish the filmmakers would have chosen to tell us even more, like the story behind all his controllers – their motivations, politically driven in-fighting amongst various mid-east intelligence agencies which may have resulted in Carlos being sponsored by so many different groups. Especially attractive is the portrayal of the politics of the various countries and covert agencies as we learn (before Carlos and his fellow terrorists do) that self-interest, not idealism, is always the driving force. What Assayas has done is managed to make the movie both a engaging and thought provoking drama. I loved the use of the jump-cut technique in Part One of the film. It captures the excitement of the process of an incident unfolding. The directing is very cinematic in scope and Ramirez’s performance is comparable in quality to many of the year’s major films.
Criterion has released a really great movie that shows they put a lot of care and effort into this project. For anyone up for a good long drama or perhaps you are interested in politics and duplicity on a global scale and how is criminal activities were funded by governments in the middle east. this film is for you. He also gets right inside Carlos’ personality giving us an extravagant, cocky but also undignified portrayal of the terrorist. Jason Bourne, this is not…as he blasts people to pieces, shooting them and so forth, we have to ask ourselves…isn’t it “revolutionary”? Noble? Full of idealism? Isn’t it a heroic “fight for the oppressed”? I felt that Carlos was portrayed as a rock star. And I’m assuming the director & writer(s) got the History right. Watching this 5+ hour film, I felt I was in the room with them myself, making history and making love! Great achievement!